It’s not hard to see why Canadian outfit bluemouth inc’s participatory party piece Dance Marathon has courted so many column inches. Its inspiration—the gruelling American Depression-era dance contests, where exhausted performers would go for days in the hope of bagging precious prize money—is fascinating source material. But cross-pollinate a nervous audience, cast them as the dancers, throw in a live band, MC, video, poetry and link up with a bunch of local musicians and dancers, and you’re sitting on a hotbed of Fringe fireworks. Except somehow, it never quite manages to ignite.
There’s plenty of fun to be had peeling back the inhibitions, throwing YMCA disco shapes, learning various dance steps and getting up close and sweaty with a bunch of strangers. But it’s hardly shifting the theatrical paradigm and occasionally feels like a family hoofing session at a holiday camp.
The “contest”, essentially a series of uncomplicated, unthreatening dance-offs where the rhythmically challenged are slowly weeded out and eliminated, is broken up with a variety of interludes, usually consisting of understandably under-rehearsed routines performed by local dancers recruited by bluemouth inc just a week before. It’s hardly Rambert, but is at least in keeping with the mood of the evening, unlike the occasional, often inaudible bursts of poetic contemplations from the embedded performers (sample musing: “why do they put feta cheese in water?”).
It feels vaguely disingenuous and alienating, especially when the covert “actors” (a) seem to be having more fun than us and (b) keep winning the contest. So what Dance Marathon admirably achieves in its joyous physicality and tearing down of the fourth wall, it loses in these oddly misplaced moments of vanity.